Monthly Archives: June 2009

free-form writing frenzy #2: how soft can you swim?

“however small it is on the surface, it is four thousand miles deep” – that’s elizabeth’s 5-minute writing prompt for today. here’s what i came up with:

wow, that’s far. how much is that? i have to think in metres. four thousand times 1.6 is … is … 4,000, 2,000 and 400 that’s 6,400 metres … that’s damn low below! one of those places on the globe where the blue is really really dark. so what is this? a real long measuring tape? a loooooong roll of toilet paper? no, that would dissolve. talk about small. i’m correcting even though i’m not supposed to. i don’t care. i can correct and type real fast. it would be slower if i wouldn’t correct. then i would have to tell myself, don’t correct, damnit! and that would hold me up. i need to take THAT specific critic along. anyways. it’s small on the surface but really deep. come to think of it, it doesn’t have to be in the ocean. can be up in the sky, somewhere in another galaxy, i read enough SF, i should know that other galaxies count. but in a way they are like the ocean, just as deep and mysterious so that we arrive at the question: what does DEEP mean? hm? maybe it’s deep as in deep thought. my thoughts are so deep, my friend, they are 6 kilometres deep. try and match THAT! what? your thoughts are 20,000 miles LONG? the geometry of thoughts. sounds all pretty competitive. not sure how much i like competition. how deep can you run? how long can you sneeze? how soft can you swim? how small can you curl? what’s on the surface? is competition on the surface?

free-form writing frenzy

moss in a german foresti’ve decided to participate in the free-form writing frenzy.  every day for a week i will write and post a quick 5-minute writing burst following the prompt that is given.  (don’t worry, i’ll also write my regular posts 🙂

today: moss

moss – green and soft and fluffy and in the forest. reminds me of the walk in the forest with r and c in germany, at that amazing source of water. what a wonderful experience that was – magic. magic magic magic. so green. so scrumptuously green. that was an amazing moment and i’d love to do it again. isn’t it funny how we want to repeat things that were special. are they really repeatable? i don’t know. hard to say. what am i saying – no, they’re not repeatable! at best, something slightly similar will happen. i don’t even remember the name of that place. i’m sure if i ask r and c they can tell me right away – it’s one of the places they are so proud of in franken. it’s amazing how much r loves his birth place. and i can see why. that was not the only magic place. all the rolling hills there in that old old old country. tiny villages that had been there since god knows when – 1200, some of them, i guess. tiny streets, cobbled. i remember that restaurant we went to with my aunt, it was so old, the ceiling was really low – because people weren’t that tall 400, 500 years ago! and the food was fabulous, real old fashioned german food.

(oh, and this post appeared in the just write blog carnival)

image by hsing_nice


it’s summer – time to go on a blog book tour!

next week i’ll be hosting a guest post by janet riehl as part of her blog book tour for her new audio book “sightlines: a family love story in poetry and music”. it is a companion to the already existing book of the same title, which has already won her quite a bit of acclaim. in the words of one reviewer

the poetry collection “sightlines: a poet’s diary” by janet riehl is a soaring, poignant homage to family, sorrow, and the rebirth that comes with pain and loss. written after the death of her sister in a tragic automobile accident, riehl cobbled together her father’s mournful poems as well as her own and set out to document the ties that bind and the things that matter most.

interwoven with collections of family photographs are meditations on the importance of family and the comfort of kin. using memories and recollections as her foundation, riehl’s poems are heartwrenching and triumphant. many of the poems read as journal entries, and diary submissions. there’s no belletristic prose or coruscate syntax, it’s simple, it’s original and straight from the heart.

though the book obviously caters to those who have experienced a similar loss, there is a resounding conviction in her writing that allow her words to enter into the hearts of the reader.

janet has put an incredibly amount of work into this tour, contributing thoughtful and audience-specific content to each and every blog on her tour – that’s almost a book in itself, janet!

here is the whole schedule – please go and visit, i know you’ll find all kinds of delightful surprises!


week one

1 velda brotherton includes janet riehl as part of her stories woven in time. see “on being a writer” at velda and jaent are both members of women writing the west.

3 kendra bonnett & matilda butler welcome janet to where everyone has a story to tell. a guest post on the theme of using story poems as an approach to writing your memoir. kendra and matilda are both members of story circle network and we all blog on SCN’s telling her stories.

4 susan tweit interviews janet on the themes relating to place that reaches out to include the metaphor of quilting and the writing process at susan’s blog is named after her newly released memoir “walking nature home.” her blog presents thoughts and conversations on living a green and generous life, rooted in place wherever we find ourselves. susan and janet both belong to women writing the west and story circle network. susan and janet have often carried on “blog duets.”

week two

9 claire applewhite interviews janet on the st. louis post-dispatch book blog where she is a contributing writer. claire’s most recent and fifth release is the wrong side of memphis, a noir mystery novel. claire and janet are both members of the st. louis writers guild.

11 kendra bonnet & matilda butler welcome janet for a conversation on memoir with this special “memoir moment” at where everyone has a story to tell. both live and recorded.

week three

17 sharman apt russell interviews janet on the theme of love, place, and meaning at, a group blog celebrating place and a greater relationship and intimacy with the natural world. she lives in silver city, new mexico.

mary ruth donnely reviews sharman’s beautiful memoir “standing in the light” on the same day. learn more about sharman and her work on

17 kendra bonnett and matilda butler’s book raves, their book reviews for women’s memoir.

18 isabella mori hosts janet’s guest post in dialogue with sarah luczaj: who owns the poem? (here on this blog).

week four

23 eden maxwell interviews janet at where he wisely proclaims, “you can’t outsource your soul work.” eden has appeared several times on on dharma and artful living. his handbook an artist empowered: define and establish your value as an artist-now is available at

week five

june 30 antona smith interviews janet on pink latte publishinga wonderful little space for a writing journey. pink latte publishing is antona’s creative writing muse. check out antona’s main blog the musings of a latte queen: narratives of everyday life.

july 3 yvonne perry interviews janet with a blog post, podcast, and book review. yvonne is a freelance writer, editor, award-winning author, speaker, and owner of writers in the sky creative writing services nashville. check her main blog here: yvonne is a long-time supporter of janet’s work and blogging buddy. her son-in-law, scott kidd was the audio engineer for “sightlines: a family love story in poetry and music.”


week six

4 molly lundquist welcomes janet for a guest post, review, book club suggestions, and midwestern recipes at lit lovers (, a well-read community dedicated to books and book clubs

8 janet muirhead hill interviews her sister-janet (there is a club of us janets!) at janet muirhead hill is the author of the miranda and starlight series of books for children as well as the founder of raven publishing. check out her two websites at: and both janets are members of women writing the west.

10 susan gallacher-turner interviews janet on susan’s art & words at where susan shares insights on living the creative life with essays, interviews, book reviews and articles. her main website is where you’ll see images of her beautiful work.

week seven

15 mary cunningham woof! (women only over 50) hosts janet’s guest post on achieving your dream after 50 through collaboration at simultaneously, mary will feature the audio book at, reaching new heights in the land of books.

mary is the author of a fantasy/time-travel series, co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, woof: women only over 50, an uplifting collection of personal anecdotes and poems about how it feels and what it means to be a woman in her fifties. she lives in the beautiful mountains of west georgia and is a member of the society of children’s book writers and illustrators. she is a frequent commenter on

17 janet elaine smith hosts janet riehl on her internet radio show “marketing for fun and profit” on pivt (passionate internet voices) at see her main website at where you can learn more about her fun faith-based fiction for the whole family.

week eight

21 damaria senne (pronounced da-maria sen-nay) interviews janet on “story pot: a writer’s online journal” story pot cooks the complexities of modern african life with traditional spice. damaria is an award-winning writer based in johannesburg where i visited her in august 2008. she kindly arranged for janet to visit her family in her home village. damaria’s current focus includes relationships, HIV and aids, and career development. damaria’s first children’s book the doll that grew was published by macmillan SA in 1993. her second reader, boitshoko was listed by heinemann SA in 1996 and translated into 4 languages.

22 hal manogue interviews janet at where he shares insightful thoughts for the 21st century and considers that the now is waiting. hal’s main website invites us to live an ordinary life in a non-ordinary way. hal is a poet and essayist who authored the books: short sleeves insights, short sleeves spirit songs, and short sleeves: a book for friend. hal is a long-time blogging buddy. he read the introduction to janet’s audio book. he lunched with janet and yvonne at the yellow porch on her first trip to nashville when she recorded the studio portion of sightlines and met scott kidd, her audio engineer. he met with janet again when janet returned to nashville this year for her celebration launch dinner with the team that made the project possible.

week nine

27 irene watson hosts janet’s guest post on “how to make and produce an audio book” on blogging authors,a gathering place for writers and readers. this site is a brain-child of reader views, which irene founded. book reviews and interviews of “sightlines: a poet’s diary” plus janet’s father’s novel “cattle country and back trails: two tales from the thompson western series” are located here. irene is author of the sitting swing. she is the manging editor for reader views and lives with her husband in austin, texas.

30 carol cole lewis hosts janet on the final stop of the internet tour as they chat about the tour as a case study in internet marketing carol provides authentic, sustainable internet and media marketing for small business as she considers the question: so, you gotta have a website…now what?

image by mezzoblue

reconciliation. music.

haid art - from alaskafrom nancy’s blog yesterday:

today was a day of reconciliation, initiated by the assembly of first nations.

here are some facts every canadian should know (i didn’t until recently):

  • approximately 250,000 kids were forced by law to go to residential schools in canada, starting in 1850
  • these were kids age 6 – 15
  • the intent was explicit: “to kill the indian in the child”
  • it is estimated that a minimum of 35% and maybe as many as 60% of these children died within five years of being sent to the school, possibly as genocide
  • by all accounts, the schools were replete with abuse beyond the primary abuse of forbidding use of their language, breaking up families, forcing christianity on them, cutting their hair (a shaming event)

i ask you: if your children were stolen from you, and you were helpless to prevent it; if you knew they were being brutalized in a school far, far away (returning home with broken bones, and many times never coming home at all – they had died); if you knew that they were being converted to a foreign religion, were not allowed to speak your language, were having your culture beaten out of them, would you not be wild with grief? enraged? humiliated? suicidal? turn to alcohol?

nancy had a U2 video at the end of that post. i thought, hm, maybe it would also be nice to illustrate such a post with first nations music. so i looked around on youtube and found this about musician mike stevens, who brings music to isolated first nations children. and that’s made made me post this blog entry.

image by native american seals

the cinderella project

prom - graduation partyon friday i went to a highschool graduation ceremony – my first one!  not having grown up in north america, and my older children having decided to skip grade 12, i had never been to one.

my first impression were the beautiful clothes everyone was wearing.  where did all these gowns come from?

well, some of them came from a fairy godmother, that’s what i just found out.  it’s part of the cinderalla project:

the cinderella project is a federally registered, 100% volunteer-based charity founded in vancouver, BC in 1999.

the latest statistics indicate that more than one in five, or twenty percent of all children in canada live below the poverty line. many of these children come from families with little or no formal education. without a high school education, employment opportunities are limited and this causes the cycle of poverty to continue.

the cinderella project was started to help encourage youth to stay in school and achieve the milestone of high school graduation, giving young people the opportunity to break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their families.

it is a magically simple concept; we know that youth in our community who are living in low income situations can not afford to celebrate the graduation festivities along side their fellow students and as a result many of them don’t see the value in completing high school. these students are referred to the cinderella project by their teachers, principals or social workers to participate in a day of recognition, self-esteem boosting and mentorship. on this day, “boutique day”, we provide these special students with formal attire so they can attend their graduation festivities with pride. without assistance these students could not afford to participate in celebrating this important milestone.

the cinderella project works to remove social barriers and promote inclusiveness and diversity. we recognize outstanding young people who have succeeded in the face of overwhelming odds and boost their confidence and self esteem through respect and positive mentorship. nearly half of all cinderellas and cinderfellas are chronically ill or physically or developmentally disabled. more than two-thirds of those students who are physically able to work juggle multiple jobs before and after school to help support their families. many are caring for ailing parents or raising younger siblings with little support. most have never had a childhood.

since its inception in 1999, the cinderella project has assisted approximately 1200 young people from around greater vancouver. the impact of the cinderella project extends well beyond graduation ceremonies. it’s truly remarkable how one day of encouragement and positive mentorship can have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence, self-esteem and outlook on life.

image by whiskey gone bad

taking a stand: what does it take to make a difference?

tarot: courage and strengthmy last post was inspired by the 20th anniversary of the tiananmen square massacre. in it i was musing about what it takes to stand up against whatever oppression we’re experiencing, be it political or in a smaller social environment.

making that decision

marie reflected: “i guess it’s a matter of deciding what is more important . . . standing up or staying safe . . . ?”

decisions – what does it take to make a decision to stand up? how often are these decisions planned, and how often do they happen in a split second? i wonder what it was like for the tank man at tiananmen square. hard to imagine that that was a deliberate, conscious decision. most likely, he saw the situation and just walked out. perhaps there was not even any self talk; it just happened, almost as in a trance. there is some controversy in the psychological community right now whether slow, rational decisions have a better outcome than “gut” decisions.  i haven’t seen these specific studies but imagine that they probably didn’t look at momentous decisions like the one made by tank man.  if he had made a list of pros and cons whether to stand in front of the tanks he wouldn’t have; he would have decided on safety.  but he did the crazy thing and continues to inspire people all over the world.

past experience and present support

“my guess is that it is a combination of past experience and current support.” – that’s what evan said.

that reminds me of something that happened just yesterday.  i was participating in a workshop that – well, didn’t leave me feeling very positive.  in fact, i felt trapped and disregarded, and it appeared that a few others did so, too.  i asked a question that tried to deal with that, which was answered only superficially, and when i became increasingly frustrated, a got up and left rather than making another comment.  so in terms of standing up it was okay but not exactly stellar (“you don’t have to be a saint, isabella!” said one of the other participants).

what was the past experience?  as many of you know, i grew up in post-nazi germany.  standing up to people who i feel use authority inappropriately is a huge value for me.  i have also stood up in similar situations before and while it is difficult every time, i feel proud and – clean, afterwards.  at the same time, not standing up can fill me with despair and disappointment.

the present support was that i knew myself surrounded – both physically by some of the participants and emotionally by my friends and family –  by people who i knew would accept and support my decision to speak up.  (interestingly enough, i think if i would have thought less about the decision to speak up the second time, i probably would have done it).

education, awareness and community

finally, sandy commented, “we find strength through awareness, education, a shared sense of community, and people in our lives who tell us we are valuable.”  i touched on education and awareness already with what i told you about my post-nazi germany upbringing.  the education and awareness came mostly through the stories i heard from my parents, who were involved with the resistance each in their own modest ways, and through my best friend, whose parents were holocaust survivors.  formal education was just an addition to that.  i think the point here is not so much that education doesn’t work but that there probably needs to be a strong, personally felt emotional impact for it to make a difference.

when i was doing my research on transformative learning, i interviewed a young man who had decided to become a forest ranger.  this decision came after having spent a summer with an older environmental activist who told him stories, explained larger environmental questions to him, and led him on many walks, intimately acquainting the young man with plants, animals, soil and the whole wide world of forests.  an education indeed – but again, a fully rounded education, touching not only the mind but also heart and body.

image by eric schwartz

tiananmen square – standing up

tiananmen square - tank manthe twentieth anniversary of tiananmen square. i sit at the mall in richmond centre as i write this. richmond, we sometimes say, isn’t vancouver – it’s part of china. if you want to get a job here, it really helps if you speak mandarin or cantonese.

so there are a lot of chinese people here in greater vancouver. maybe that’s why the tiananmen square anniversary always feels special to me. or maybe it’s the memory of sitting in my meditation class shortly after i had heard about it, at noon tomorrow 20 years ago, imagining the horror perhaps more vividly had i only seen it on TV.

the storm around tiananmen square was – and we should probably say, “still is” – about many things, some of them probably completely obscured to me. but i know one thing: it is about the human right to choose one’s destiny and to speak our minds.

some of us have our own tiananmen squares. don’t get me wrong; i don’t want to belittle this immensely important and tragic political event; rather, i want to point out that there is a connection between political and personal struggles. is it just because i grew up in an age where the slogan “the personal is political” was rampant? i think it’s more than that, and believe that the slogan has depth to it.

the other day i explained to my 12-year old daughter the roots of greenpeace and how they had their tiny little kayaks square off with huge whaling ships. it’s an old story, really: david versus goliath. the powerless against the powerful or, let’s reword this: the ones that are perceived to be powerless against the ones that are perceived to be powerful.

tank man against the tank. kayaks against huge ships. david against goliath. it is an archetypal story and therefore touches all of us.

and so often it feels like there is nothing that can be done. a 5-year-old boy scared in the face of overbearing adults. a young woman not daring to say anything to her raging partner. a middle-aged employee under the thumb of an uncaring boss.

where do we find the strength to stand up?

because we do. rarely as dramatically as tank man did.  but we do.